Industry Focus: Red Light Management's Steve Satterthwaite

Steve Satterhwaite has been in the electronic music management hustle since day one
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David Ireland
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Steve Satterhwaite has been in the electronic music management hustle since day one
Steve Satterthwaite

I remember the first time I met Steve Satterthwaite. It was around 1998, and I was in year three of building BPM Magazine - which at that time we still called BPM Culture Magazine. It was myself and Rob Simas (a Magnetic Magazine cofounder and Insomniac Events content director) holding it down in our little 300-square f-oot office in San Diego's Pacific Beach. We survived on Taco Bell, Mountain Dew and 7-11 coffees (The giant ones), and cases of Red Bull when they would show up occasionally. 

The US electronic music scene was thriving, raves were starting to become more buttoned up, and UK labels were setting up shop in LA. The whole thing was booming with an incredible DIY energy. 

Leon Alexander, Steve Satterthwaite and Timo Maas paid us a visit at the office to do an interview and down some shitty American beer with us. They were flying the Hope Records/Hope Management flag at the time and working from the UK to push new progressive house talent (back when it really was progressive house) stateside. 

BPM Magazine Crew 1997

The Original BPM Magazine crew circa 1997 (Rob Simas second to the left top row) I'm sitting next to him in the raver bucket hat. 

Timo Maas was on the verge of exploding and prog house had become the edgy new genre that everyone was starting to lap up.

Eventually, Satterthwaite would move to Los Angeles, and through a series of mergers and maneuvering found himself at the powerhouse Red Light Management looking after some top-shelf acts like Borgore, Bonobo, and others. 

The ponytail may be gone (good move, Steve), but Satterthwaite is still the same chilled-out music fanatic that he was when he walked through BPM's door over 18 years ago. Things have changed quite a bit, but it's nice to see that some things are still the same. 

I finally caught up with Steve for a quick interview and catchup session. Listen up, because a true veteran is about to speak.

How did you start your career in the electronic music business?

I was working as a radio presenter in Bristol UK in the early '90s… Bristol, with its rich cultural diversity, was and still is at the forefront of some very influential electronic music. From radio, it was a natural step into journalism - where I ended up writing for DJ Mag and a few other dance magazines. I ended up at Lakota, which was one of the pioneering '90s clubs in the UK, sitting in a dilapidated, attic-like office paying DJs large sums of cash and meeting some of the people that have shaped my life.

What is the best part of the business?

It probably changes the longer you work in the business. I think now if I look back I would say the ability and fortune to experience the world; traveling with your work gives you an added perspective on life. If you mix that with something you love and being able to pay your bills, then I would consider that particularly fortunate.

What are the biggest challenges?

It's a 24/7 business; you have to work hard at balancing the various facets of the business but also your personal life, your health and your family. Sometimes tiredness and travel eats into your perspective and because you garner such close relationships its key to be able to understand friendship, business, and ambition as its natural in this business that they cross over.

What career advice would you recommend to someone just starting off?

It's about passion and ideas. Age is not a hindrance or a benefit; the industry consistently reinvents itself, and new ideas and new ways of marketing are key. Being open minded to new models and new ways to promote artists will lead you in good stead. Having an experienced head near you helps, but you should always plough your own path forward. Nothing beats having a passion for music and a vision for its dissemination.

As the EDM industry continues to grow, what do you think the secrets to longevity in this business will be? 

Reinvention and youth. Taking everything you've learned and then sometimes ripping up the model and thinking of new ways to get to the end game. Appreciating that the journey is as important as the destination. Some artists take months to get to the end game, some take years and years, and that's all completely valid. Finally, remembering that experience and doing things in an obvious way is not always what’s required. Disruptive marketing, disruptive music, and new ideas are key when developing a strategy. You can listen to but also create an audience.

Did you start off as a fan of electronic music and then became involved on the business side, or did business bring you into the electronic music world? Describe that process.

Fairly easy growing up in the UK in the '80s and '90s. Indie rock was crossing over with dance music in the raves of the early '90s, and for us who were teenagers then to go from Kurt Cobain to Primal Scream or the Happy Mondays was a natural progression. Then came the free party raves in the British countryside. If you cap that with an interest in hip-hop, soul and funk, then you ended up in those fields.

If you weren’t in the music biz, what would you be doing?

Good question. Weirdly, I got paid to play Cricket (very British Sport – think Baseball with hundreds more rules and over many days), but all I wanted to do was music and travel. So I’ll take being a washed out cricketer if I didn't end up here, but it would probably have been journalism in some way.

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